Strawberry-Blueberry Crostata for the Fourth of July; “Ok, Sweet Stuff!”

Strawberry-Blueberry Crostata for the Fourth of July; “Ok, Sweet Stuff!”

We all need a little sweetness this Fourth.

More’s the pity, I haven’t an Italian bone in my body — unless drinking a lot of Chianti counts? But I love to cook Italian food and nothing makes this baker’s heart sing like making a crostata for dessert. A crows-TAH-tah (plural: crostate) is a freeform pie — no pie or tart pan necessary — and, filled with jam, is often the homemade dessert of choice in an Italian kitchen. There is occasionally a lattice pastry top, though not often. The French word for such a pie is a gallette and the two terms are often used interchangeably here in the states where we bake this pie full of whatever fruit happens to be ripe and in good supply. I’ve taught crostate making in both my Italian Christmas Day Dinner Class and in one-on-one pie classes. Without exception, everyone who makes it loves the finished product and feels terribly accomplished because who doesn’t like to look at and eat pie?

Pie, me oh my. I love pie.

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Spicy Citrus Halibut with Asparagus + a Grilling Book Recommendation

Spicy Citrus Halibut with Asparagus + a Grilling Book Recommendation

Come summer, I grab a stack of grilling books and magazines and leave them by our chairs in the sunroom, rotating them every few weeks so we have new things to consider as the summer moves along, the heat builds, and the kitchen is used less and less. (I have a horrifically hot range–wonderful in the winter and a bear in the summer.)

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Pork Tenderloin and Vegetables on Arugula with Lemon Vinaigrette plus  Pork and Blue Cheese Tacos for the Next Night

Pork Tenderloin and Vegetables on Arugula with Lemon Vinaigrette plus Pork and Blue Cheese Tacos for the Next Night

for Father’s Day or tomorrow night

Some years we have no bunnies at all in our yard. Other times, such as now, we are overrun by the the dreaded chomper-hoppers. (Have you ever seen one hop straight up 4 feet or more? They can. ) I blame it on the lack of outdoor cats and our local bob cat family temporarily taking up residence in the next subdivision over. While cute, especially when oh so very small, they eat everything we don’t want them to eat but perversely leave the weeds for us to pull.

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Father’s Day: Dave’s Easy Huevos Rancheros with our CHEEP A** BLOODY MARYS.

Father’s Day: Dave’s Easy Huevos Rancheros with our CHEEP A** BLOODY MARYS.

When my husband Dave and I became empty nesters several years ago, we began to eat brunch out on Sundays after church and rarely cooked it at home except on holidays or special occasions. Then came COVID-19. No church except online. No restaurants open until recently. (We’re still not going, though we did go to our local dive drive-in for ice cream the other day.) We immediately hopped to and began cooking brunch at home again–just like in the old days. We shared the work–Dave making eggs, etc. and me happily baking a goodie like the Blueberry Buckle below, which I hadn’t been doing in eons. We’ve taken turns on what we now call our Cheep A** Bloody Marys (more on that later) and now eat brunch BEFORE church for the most part. We’ve even gone way old school and made Dave’s mom Lorna’s comforting egg casserole a time or two as it provides excellent lunch leftovers. (Recipe in photo below.) Could we ever have imagined all this? No. You probably hadn’t either.

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Grilled Zucchini Caprese

Grilled Zucchini Caprese

When our country’s collective heart feels as if it’s breaking in two and violence appears out of everywhere and nowhere for reasons we know but don’t always understand well, I don’t know where to turn. We have no family in the town in which we live, though we’ve a long run of perfect friends — all distanced at this point. MISS YOU!!!

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Garlicky Two-Potato and Green Bean Salad with Tarragon Vinaigrette

Garlicky Two-Potato and Green Bean Salad with Tarragon Vinaigrette

Those of us raised by southern mothers might have grown up with Green Beans and Potatoes on the table come hot, dripping summertime evenings. Add a plate of heavy sliced tomatoes (well-salted, thank you) and a pan of cornbread with lots of butter, please, and that was dinner. Who needed meat? For the past few years, warm weather brings on the need to re-create that dish with my own twists and turns. Those often include tossing in whatever other vegetables I have on hand, turning it all into a salad, and whipping up a frisky vinaigrette I doubt my mom would ever have added. She might have thrown in a piece of chopped bacon or a tablespoon or two of bacon grease into the pot for flavor, though, now that I think about it. Oh, and that bacon grease never saw the inside of a refrigerator either. (We all lived.)

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One-Pan Pork Tenderloin with White Beans, Cabbage, and Tomatoes

One-Pan Pork Tenderloin with White Beans, Cabbage, and Tomatoes

Under 30 minutes!

My post about the cookbook gifts for Mother’s and Father’s Days a couple of weeks ago resulted in a tasty stack of books hanging around my office and kitchen. While I cook off the top of my head for the most part, I also know the road toward growth and innovation is paved with reading, seeing, tasting, talking, cooking and testing new dishes. When I had a minute or two –and let’s face it, we’re pretty much still staying home, so I do have time — I kept flipping through those books, enjoying them more and more. Given ingredients are a bit scarce, even though I wanted to cook a whole bunch of different recipes, unless I wanted to wait a week for the next grocery run, I probably had to punt to put one on the dinner table.

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Best of the Beans–Cornbread, too, of course

Best of the Beans–Cornbread, too, of course

Listen the the peaceful piano stream from Minnesota Public Radio while you read…. (click on “Listen: Replenish your spirit.)

“Cheap Eats” has a sort of nasty ring to it, but it’s a bit on the real-edgy side, too. I get it. I’ve been without a lot of bucks at the grocery store check out; I’ve had to feed six people three times a day for a lot of years. My stove has cooked many a meal for a big bunch of folks along the way. “Cheap,” though, is tricky to a serious cook; it’s not the thing we’re looking for. “Inexpensive?” Sure. That rocks. Who doesn’t like “inexpensive?” But “cheap” smacks of poorly made or tawdry (think cheapskate) — just not terribly positive, even in today’s world. But when I look hard at it, and we’re all looking hard at things right now, we might be in a place where we need to know exactly what cheap eats are. And I know. The thing is, they’re sometimes pretty good. In fact, if you know how to cook cheap eats that taste good, you’re a mighty special person. You know how to add a thick schmear of seasoned rice at the bottom of each bowl to stretch a few cups of chili. You probably are intimately acquainted with why God made potatoes fried in bacon grease. Or perhaps you can make a big platter of crispy butter biscuits served with a deep bowl of beans and a little chopped bacon and manage to feed 10 hungry people? In other words, you’re like a lot of people’s grandmas who knew from tough times.

my grandma and great-grandma (wish I knew the dog’s name)

And, if we look at what we think of now as beautiful, sophisticated dishes from any old country you want to name, they’re often the meals country people made out of what they had to feed everyone who was coming to the table that night. Tough old pieces of meat simmered for hours with whatever was in the garden or on the shelf or ancient hens cooked to smithereens and served over noodles…maybe vegetables with little other than an onion and some herbs to make them tasty. A few eggs stirred up with a bit of cheese served with yesterday’s bread grilled up with butter and served with jam. Kettle of lentils bubbling on the back burner. The meals made out of what was grown nearby, out of what was available, or out of what some smart cookie had preserved and stored from last season. The food made without a grocery store just down the street.

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COOKING THE BOOKS: Fun Gifts for Mother’s or Father’s Day

COOKING THE BOOKS: Fun Gifts for Mother’s or Father’s Day

Diana Henry’s FROM THE OVEN TO THE TABLE: Simple Dishes That Look After Themselves

While Mother’s Day — yes it’s this Sunday, May 10, 2020 — is absolutely just around the corner, Father’s Day, June 21, 2020, offers a little more leeway for thought…and shipping. Shopping, I mean. Wedding or graduation coming up later? Even a zoom ceremony/celebration? Whichever. If some lucky duck needing a gift anytime soon has a yen for cooking, I’ve got a few ideas for you. Scroll down for some fun info, recipes, and pix of stunning new and newer cook and drink books I’ve come to eat adore. Yes, there’s this: if you’re looking to get mom’s present there on time (lots of brownie points for on time–otherwise get on the phone that day), it’s time to click and pay. Today. So take a look at a book and see what you think. Links to amazon included for fast ordering.

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Air Fryer Cauliflower Salad with Ginger Vinaigrette

Air Fryer Cauliflower Salad with Ginger Vinaigrette

No air fryer? Links below for oven or pan roasting the cauliflower.

I’ve been working for a few weeks on ideas for a Mother’s Day (Sunday, May 10, 2020) post featuring new and/or newer books I’m recommending for great gift-giving, especially since a lot of it will need to be done long-distance in some way. (Books ship easily. Amazon will even wrap them.) Could even be for Father’s Day, right? Or graduation? Or wedding? (I’m unsure how those last two are being accomplished this year. Lord, Lord.) And lest you think I’ve given up on it, I haven’t. I bought the books, have pored over them happily and have been, ingredients being what they are these days, cooking the books to coin a phrase. I’m just not done. Soon. It’s gotta be soon as we’re getting full cooking this stuff! Two of the books lean French; the other veers toward the Brits, though my version is written for Americans. It is too fun to cook from other people’s recipes, to see how they put the book together, and do little but enjoy the whole process from looking at the photos to eating or drinking the beautiful victuals. Writers who’ve recently published a book are simply not getting the chance to promote their work as they have in other years; there are no book tours, many fewer media opportunities, and so on. It’s a good time for food bloggers to step up to the plate and lend a hand promoting our favorite authors. It’s just that I’ve a few things left to do before you see it all!

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